PNG Kumuls defeated Fiji 26-14 in the opening match of the Pacific Test double-header at Campbelltown on Saturday night.
Despite having a third of the combined NRL experience, a world ranking double that of Fiji, and giving away a bit of size, the PNG Kumuls out-enthused their Pacific rivals in attack and defence and were deserving winners of the Pacific Test despite going scoreless in the second half.
The Kumul’s first half Rau’t (pun intended) included four tries to one, and featured the PNG winger on debut for his country Junior Rau scored twice in almost identical fashion. His first came in the 14th minute as Rau used his swift footwork to score after halfback Watson Boas broke out of tackles to jink and eventually find the PNG winger.
The next Kumuls try came after James Segeyaro broke out of a tackle to land a pass on the chest of prop Luke Page, who capped a fine first 20 minutes with a rampaging try scoring run from 10 metres out. PNG did move two points further ahead in the 29th minute through a penalty after Watson Boas was taken high and late with a lazy forearm from Fiji after he kicked, in a move that looked a little like plenty seen in the Football World Cup in Russia. The Kumuls could have been further ahead had a little Willie Minoga magic not been overturned by the Video Referee.
Fiji got their first points on the board in the 34th minute, in a nicely worked set play from a scrum near the Kumuls line. It ended up in the hands of Tyrone Phillips who did very well to get the ball down despite a number of Kumuls’ attention. That made the score 14-4 and perhaps could have been the turning corner for the Fijians. Right?
Wrong. The Kumuls put a final stamp on the first half, and probably the match as they scored two quick tries in two minutes just before half time to take a 26-4 lead to the break. The first of those tries was almost a carbon copy of the first to Rau, except this time Justin Olam had a hand in the scoring with a fine flick pass to Rau. The second try was courtesy of a lightning quick Segeyaro creating havoc up the middle and finding Justin Olam in support.
The second half saw 10 points scored, and for Fiji, as they couldn’t turn their advantage in possession and territory into points. Mainly due to the solid, dedicated and enthusiastic defence of the PNG Kumuls. Jarryd Hayne was involved in Fiji’s two tries, with a deft grubber down the blind side landing in the arms of Marcelo Montoya, and was in the build up of Vanivalu’s try in the other corner, which turned out to be the last score of the match.
PNG TOO ENTHUSIASTIC FOR FIJI
Despite lacking the NRL experience of the Fiji side, the Kumuls made up for it with enthusiasm shown across the park far superior than that of Fiji. Their defence was punishing, and they attacked with real intent in the first half and deservedly outscored Fiji four tries to one.
A case in point was the Kumuls chase of a Fijian kick in the last-minute of the game in which three Kumuls players were chasing the ball were there to guard the ball over the line, despite the game already won. It did look at times as if Fiji weren’t nearly as interested as PNG were to be playing the big Pacific Test. Jarryd Hayne will probably be a focus for some, and although he did some good things, his attitude provided a bit of a barometer for the rest of the side.
KUMULS FORWARDS LAY PLATFORM FOR VICTORY
Despite giving away size and experience to Fiji, the Kumuls hard-working pack really took it to Fiji, and provided all the momentum they needed for victory. Particularly good were the three back rowers of Rhyse Martin, Nixon Putt and Rod Griffin. Rod Griffin seems to be a perpetual motion machine at times, Rhyse Martin was always on hand for a fierce run up the middle in addition to his excellent goal kicking, and Nixon Putt was arguably the pick of the lot with plenty to offer in attack and defence. Just ask Jarryd Hayne about the defence. The rampaging Luke Page too was also wonderful as ever, and was reward with a try.
JUSTIN OLAM INJURY SOURS KUMULS WIN
PNG fullback Justin Olam has been on the fringes of breaking into the Melbourne Storm side, and his form in the Pacific Test against Fiji showed that he will deserve the call up when it happens again. He has already had a taste once in the NRL this season, and did himself proud, and with State of Origin potentially affecting the Storm squad, in was perfect timing for Olam to play well. So it was very sad to see the fullback injured in the 57th minute, after being involved in one try and scoring another in the first half.
FIJI PRE MATCH HYMN STILL RUGBY LEAGUE’S GREATEST PRE MATCH RITUAL
As great as the duelling pre-game chant of Tonga v Samoa are, there is still something that stirs the soul after watching the Fijians pre-game hymn. It didn’t work for them this time around, but it is something different and a reason why these Pacific Tests are such a welcome change to the NRL grind. With the Fijian hymn, Tonga and Samoas pre-match rituals, and players with so much heart and soul for the nation like Willie Minoga, we say bring on the expanded series format.
PNG KUMULS 26
Tries: Junior Rau 13′, Luke Page 17′, Junior Rau 35′, Justin Olam 38′
Goals: Rhyse Martin 4 Conversions, 1 Penalty
FIJI BATI 14
Tries: Tyrone Phillips 32′, Marcelo Montoya 53′, Suliasi Vunivalu 68′
Goals: Sitiveni Moceidreke 1 Conversion